Miami Dolphins About to Score a Huge Stadium Naming Rights Deal

Stephen Ross is about to make back a serious chunk of the reportedly $350 million in private funds he pledged to renovate his now-unnamed stadium in Miami Gardens. That's right: Sun Life Stadium is no more, because the naming rights deal between Canadian-based firm and the Miami Dolphins has run out, meaning the Fins are now free agents looking for a new sponsor — and a lot of money. 

According to the Miami Herald, the Dolphins are hopeful they can land a new naming rights deal before next season, meaning really soon — preseason games begin in AugustHustling to get a new deal in place would make a lot of sense for Miami, seeing as once a team loses a year of naming rights money, it's gone forever — just ask the Marlins.

While naming rights deals aren't always made public knowledge, enough NFL deals have been reported to know that the Dolphins are about to hit the lottery. Consider the most recent deals:

FedEx is paying the Washington Redskins $205 million over 27 years.  

Levi's will pay the San Francisco 49ers $220 million over 11 years for the naming rights to Levi's Stadium. The Minnesota Vikings also got $220 million, but for 20 years of rights, from U.S. Bank. 

The New England Patriots are being paid $240 million over 30 years to play at Gillette Stadium. 

The Houston Texans opened their $352 million stadium in 2002 but will make most of it back thanks to a 32-year, $300 million naming rights deal made with NRG Energy (formerly Reliant).  

The New York Giants/Jets sold their rights to MetLife for 25 years for a cool $400 million in 2010. 

Jerry Jones spent $1.2 billion building the new Dallas Cowboys stadium and then sold the naming rights for an amount that could end up covering half of it all. AT&T will pay $400 million over 20 years for the right to call "Jerry's World" AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys have the option to make it $600 million over 30 years if they so desire, but by the time 2033 comes around (if football is still legal), that might seem like pennies. 

In a now-defunct deal, Farmers Insurance signed with AEG in January 2011, when the insurance giant agreed to pay at least $700 million over 30 years for the naming rights to a new NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles next to the Lakers' Staples Center. The deal fell through when the Los Angeles Rams committed to building the world's most expensive stadium complex, a 300-acre development in Inglewood that the New York Times predicts could cost nearly $3 billion to build. 

Looking forward to this...

A photo posted by Tom Garfinkel (@garfinkeltom) on

So what will the Dolphins' naming rights be worth? As with anything, it'll be whatever someone is willing to pay. Chances are, though, it's a lot.

In 2010, reports had Sun Life's five-year entitlement deal averaged around $7.5 million annually, but much has changed since then. The popularity of the NFL continues to grow, and companies' branding deals have never been so expensive and sought-after. There may be no better example of that fact than Fan Duel and Draft Kings spending more than $200 million combined on NFL marketing last year. Just a few years ago, teams were selling signage, ads, and other marketing opportunities for a fraction of what teams will charge in 2016-17. 

“For naming rights, I’m not sure if the right word is 'rebirth' or 'renaissance,'” says Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment President and CEO Jeff Knapple, who has been involved in more than 20 naming rights deals over the past two decades, “but having seen the dark years of 2009-10, I think it’s as robust as it has ever been.” 

For companies looking to stick their brand name in customers' heads over the long haul, stadium naming rights are the gold standard. 

“Naming rights are a brand association that cuts through the media clutter and can’t be DVR’ed,” says Mike Belcher, vice president of media and consumer engagement at T-Mobile.

In addition to the NFL's growing popularity, the Dolphins have their own sweeteners built into any proposed deal for a potential sponsor. Thanks to the new stadium renovations, the Fins will surely host a Super Bowl and many other high-profile events in the near future. That was the entire point of the changes to the stadium, and it seems to be on the verge of paying off before the upgrades are even completed. 

The Dolphins have bonus clauses worked into the stadium renovations deal with the county that pays the Dolphins $4 million for each Super Bowl hosted at Sun Life, $3 million for each college football national championship game, and $2 million for each college playoff game. In addition, high-profile soccer matches could net the team as much as $750,000 per contest. Numerous other smaller kick-ins associated with putting asses in seats also exist in the deal with Miami-Dade County, including drawing big concert acts and other events that will generate additional revenue for the county's economy. 

These bonus clauses could end up benefiting the Dolphins twofold, not only paying them once as they are achieved but also serving as selling points during potential naming rights negotiations taking place over the next few months. Sponsors will feel good knowing it will be in the Dolphins' best interest to get their name on the biggest stages. More big events in the future at Dolphins TBA Stadium will mean not only more money for the team but also more eyeballs on the sponsors' name and logos. That's value for your buck. 

Board #2 (west side) coming down today

A photo posted by Tom Garfinkel (@garfinkeltom) on

While the Dolphins may not be the cream of the NFL crop at the moment, their off-the-field product is undoubtedly intriguing. The fact is the Dolphins have a freshly minted stadium, located in Miami, on the one of the largest sports stages in the world. Only 32 of these marketing opportunities are available, and most are locked up until the stadium parking lots will be filled with self-flying cars. As with a high-profile NFL free-agent quarterback, it will take only one organization looking to make a splash for the Miami Dolphins to get paid

The only thing working against the Fins may be the fact that their stadium is built on an Indian burial ground, but other than that, everything seems peachy. 

One thing is certain: With Ross spending a lot of his own money to fix up the place, he sure couldn't have picked a better time to have stadium naming rights to sell. 
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Ryan Yousefi is a freelance writer for Miami New Times, a lover of sports, and an expert consumer of craft beer and pho. Hanley Ramirez once stole a baseball from him and to this day still owes him $10.
Contact: Ryan Yousefi